National Hunt Races

Horse racing that requires horses to clear obstacles (known as hurdles or fences), is known as national hunt racing. National hunt races take place in winter, as summer is reserved for flat races. Horses used in national hunt racing tend to be cheaper than those in flat racing, and as such they do not need to be retired at as young an age as in flat racing.

In Ireland, National Hunt racing is substantially more popular than flat racing, while in England the popularity of the two forms of horse racing is more balanced. Irish horses also tend to dominate the national hunt meetings.

In both 2005 and 2006, Irish-trained horses took top honours in the main events at Cheltenham and also won the Grand National. National hunt horses are mostly thoroughbreds, though this is not a necessity. The sport originated from hunting – hence its name – and horses need to excel in two primary areas in order to win national hunt races: speed and jumping ability.

Types of National Hunt Races

National Hunt chase races are run over a distance of between 2 and 4.5 miles, while the fences must be a minimum of 4.5 feet high. National Hunt hurdle races are shorter, being run over a distance of 2 to 3.5 miles and with a minimum hurdle height stipulation of 3.5 feet. There is a third type of race – national hunt flat races – which are often referred to as ‘bumper’ races and are specifically for horses who have not yet competed in either obstacle or flat racing. These races are run over a distance of between 1.5 and 2.5 miles.

National Hunt Races: Festivals

A highlight of the National Hunt calendar is Cheltenham Festival, which is held at the Cheltenham Racecourse in Gloucestershire every March.

Other major national hunt festivals include the John Smith’s Grand National held annually at Aintree Racecourse, and the Punchestown Festival – the Irish equivalent of the Cheltenham Festival.